The Comeback Kid: The Evolution of the Brooch

6 minute read

Worn in the hair, around the neck, or on the jacket or piece of clothing, the brooch has prevailed as a symbol of refinement and has a long history that dates to the Bronze age. These days, however, antique brooches have transformed into more than just a beautiful fashion statement: they are accessories of distinction, worthy of understanding and observation.

18K Gold, Enamel, Emerald & Diamond Brooch by David Webb Marked "WEBB / 900 PLATINUM 18K" 18K Gold, Enamel, Emerald & Diamond Brooch by David Webb Marked "WEBB / 900 PLATINUM 18K"

In the modern world, antique brooches add a touch of elegance and personality. Women can dress up an outfit with a unique piece of jewelry that also serves as a true reflection of their personal style. While these accessories may have been overshadowed by other trending pieces of jewelry in the past, recent years have brought a wave of popularity for these signature works of art. What we've learned is that vintage brooches are here to stay. Read more to learn about their fascinating history, style, and evolution over time.

A Brief History of the Brooch

As an ornamental clasp that includes an attached pin for affixing it to the garment, hat, hair, turban, whose body may have any form, the brooch is perhaps the oldest form of jewelry. Importantly, the brooch can often be seen as objects of important chronological indicators, as they vastly changed with each new decade and period.

Humble Beginnings

Though primarily considered an ornamental piece today, the brooch began as a strictly functional and utilitarian item used to secure items of clothing. Fundamentally put, brooches didn’t start out as striking jewelry objects. Instead, the first documented brooches hail from the Bronze Age and were crafted of simple, unassuming materials like flint, thorns, and base metals. This unassuming brooch would be comprised of a simple pin, fastened into a circular ring. In Northern Europe, the brooch was in fact a characteristic clothing accessory, used to secure and fasten heavy cloaks and tunics during the heavy winters.

The Ornamentation Begins

When did brooches start becoming more ornamental, crafted solely for wardrobe adornment? In other words, when did brooches become a piece of jewelry? Over the centuries, craftsmen became more skilled at developing intricate decorative techniques. First seen in the Byzantine Era, brooches were now cloaked with gemstones, enameling, and pearls. In this period, clergymen and the elite were consumed with a desire for opulence, and their brooches, while still acting as a functional item to fasten clothing, now displayed a level of elaborate artisanship that made them a status symbol.

Did you know? Though finally evolving into an ornamental jewelry item, the origin of the brooch object can be traced back all the way to the Bronze Age where Vikings and Celtics flaunted unadorned pins used to fasten together cloaks and other items of clothing

The Victorian Era

The Victorian Era, 1837-1901, not only encompassed massive social and economic changes in Great Britain, but also ushered in new jewelry styles, craft techniques, and trends. Motifs such as snakes and serpents and more gemstones, such as garnets, sapphires, and diamonds were incorporated into jewelry items, especially brooches.

Demantoid Garnet, Diamond & Pearl Victorian-Period Brooch Demantoid Garnet, Diamond & Pearl Victorian-Period Brooch

Modern Times

The popularity of brooches reached a pinnacle during the 19th century with the iconic reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The young queen, who had a strong affinity for brooches, was seen topping her outfits with sapphire and diamond-encrusted brooches. So great her influence that admirers all over the world began copying her style – and jewelry firms aimed to feed the connoisseurship.

Aquamarine and Diamond Art Deco Brooch Aquamarine and Diamond Art Deco Brooch

Though the 20th century saw little likeness towards the brooch, the 21st century has ushered a strong comeback for the brooch. Thanks to their versatility and limitless design possibilities, the brooch has captured the attention of high-end jewelry designers and is now included in their most important collections. With the greatly increased interest in this newly-rediscovered jewelry item, artists and jewelry firms have incorporated brooches into their highly-coveted designs.

Emerald, Sapphire & Diamond Peacock Brooch by Cartier Signed "Cartier" Emerald, Sapphire & Diamond Peacock Brooch by Cartier Signed "Cartier"

In fact, the popularity of brooches is entirely evident in the activity of auction houses. Just this year, a mesmerizing ruby and diamond brooch by Boucheron realized just over $2 million in auction, and in December 2017, a charming diamond bow brooch by Cartier sold for just under $500,000 at auction.


Different Types of Brooches

The term “brooch” signifies any ornamental or functional clasp with an attached pin to be affixed to an item of clothing, scarf, or hat. However, it is an all-encompassing term that include a variety of different types. Read below to learn about the most popular varieties of brooches and their specific characteristics.

En Tremblant

A French term meaning “to tremble,” this brooch term was first used in the 18th and 19th century to describe this particular type of jewelry setting, known as a “trembler,” that allows parts of the brooch to move with the wearer.

Burma Ruby and Diamond En Tremblant Brooch, Circa 1865 Burma Ruby and Diamond En Tremblant Brooch, Circa 1865

Cameo

Perhaps the most traditional form of brooch, cameos feature carved relief image of a figure, often depicting a relative or significant other.

Spray Brooch

A type of brooch that features foliate designs of flowers crafted diamonds and colored gemstones.

18K Gold, Burma Ruby & Diamond Spray Brooch 18K Gold, Burma Ruby & Diamond Spray Brooch

 

Aigrette

Though traditionally known as a gold or silver hat or hair ornament, this type of brooch is shaped like an egret plume and is often set with small gemstones or colored enameling.

Jabot Pin

A type of brooch that is typically long or vertically shaped and consists of a single pin with two decorative ornaments, one on each side of the pin. The lower side is detachable, allowing the connecting pin to be slipped through the garment.

Jade, Ruby & Diamond Jabot Pin by Cartier Signed "Cartier" Jade, Ruby & Diamond Jabot Pin by Cartier Signed "Cartier"


Product Spotlight: Animal Brooches

18K Gold, Enamel, Ruby, Diamond & Emerald Tiger Brooch by David Webb 18K Gold, Enamel, Ruby, Diamond & Emerald Tiger Brooch by David Webb

The wonders of the animal kingdom have long been a source of fascination and inspiration for artists across nearly every imaginable discipline. In the 19th century, however, animal representation was sprouting up all over the world as audiences and jewelry connoisseurs alike had an appetite for both the beautiful in nature and its wild, exotic qualities. Jewelry firm giants such as David Webb, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co., harnessed this new-found interest and led the way in creating brooches to match the popularity of the diverse creatures found in nature.

18K Gold, Enamel, Diamond & Sapphire Monkey Brooch by Tiffany & Co. Marked "TIFFANY & CO. 18K" 18K Gold, Enamel, Diamond & Sapphire Monkey Brooch by Tiffany & Co. Marked "TIFFANY & CO. 18K"

 

Shop the story
From the same author
A Brief History of High Irish Furniture
A Brief History of High Irish Furniture
Read More
Lightning Trapped: A Guide to Opals
Lightning Trapped: A Guide to Opals
Read More
Behind What's Seen: Learning from the Back of Paintings
Behind What's Seen: Learning from the Back of Paintings
Read More
Next

Cameo Glass

#GlassCanvas

 
Daum Nancy Winter Cameo Vase
Daum Nancy Cameo Glass Bowl
Woodland Cameo Glass Vase By Daum Nancy
Émile Gallé Cameo Glass Lamp
Silver-Mounted Art Glass Vase By Émile Gallé
Art Nouveau Cameo Glass Vase By Gallé
Back to Top back to top